Pair side by side through life

Holly Tatom-Cross and Bella Bollinger are back in their hometown of Queenstown. Photos by Christine O'Connor.
Holly Tatom-Cross and Bella Bollinger are back in their hometown of Queenstown. Photos by Christine O'Connor.
One of Tatom-Cross’ amethyst and pewter rings.
One of Tatom-Cross’ amethyst and pewter rings.
Bella Bollinger’s fabric and stitch works.
Bella Bollinger’s fabric and stitch works.
Bella Bollinger’s fabric and stitch works.
Bella Bollinger’s fabric and stitch works.

Seeing their work hanging on the walls in an exhibition space last month made two Queenstown art students feel very grown up. Rebecca Fox talks to Bella Bollinger and Holly Tatom-Cross about a life-long friendship.

Bella Bollinger and Holly Tatom-Cross have been by each other's side since they were small, so holding their first exhibition together came naturally.

The Queenstown pair, aged 19 and 20 respectively, share a creative bent as well as a friendship.

Growing up in the tourist town they studied art at school, although Tatom-Cross had more of a design interest.

When the time came to choose what to do after school the pair decided the bright lights of Wellington with its thriving arts community was where they wanted to be.

''We never considered anywhere else because there is this real artsy hub in Wellington,'' Bollinger said.

So they enrolled in the College of Creative Arts at Massey University in Wellington - Tatom-Cross studying for a bachelor of design specialising in photography, while Bollinger studied for a bachelor of fine arts degree.

However, the girls discovered Wellington was not really for them.

''We both missed home a lot. We're very much homebodies,'' Tatom-Cross said.

''We didn't really enjoy the year,'' Bollinger said.

They decided to look for another school to study at, one where they could be more hands on and have better access to teaching staff.

In the end they decided on Otago Polytechnic for exactly those reasons. Bollinger opted to study for a bachelor of visual arts specialising in textiles and Tatom-Cross to study for bachelor of visual arts specialising in jewellery.

''It's way more hands-on. It's been a good move, '' Tatom-Cross said.

It is also closer to home, allowing the girls to make regular visits and for Bollinger to do her second-semester long distance.

She chose weaving, initially working on a small hand-built loom before she developed the idea of drawing with thread.

Tatom-Cross chose jewellery after a trip to Bali uncovered the idea of crystals and their healing power.

''I wanted to work with them to make art.''

When it came time to decide on their final project for the year, they had the same idea - base it on love.

The idea for their first exhibition, ''Those who taught me how to love'', was to draw on their experiences since leaving home and their yearning to be home again.

Tatom-Cross used amethyst from Bali in the pewter rings she created while also using her photographic skills to highlight some pieces.

''These handcrafted rings are about letting go of the excess baggage we carry and having faith in something natural and simple,'' she said.

She photographed her mother's hands and her father's hair and her boyfriend - all in images showing actions of love.

''It meant a lot more to me to have family involved in the work.''

Bollinger also used family and friends in her work, with blind contour drawings on linen and presenting them in embroidery hoops expressing the idea of tough being both tangible - the fabric and stitch - and intangible - the impact one person can have on another.

''We all have people in our lives who have touched our hearts. These are my people.''

Seeing their works hanging on the walls during their exhibition last month was quite surreal for the pair.

''We've been through all this together. It's surreal having our own exhibition, quite professional,'' Bollinger said.

For Tatom-Cross, it had made her reflect on the tough times.

''I'm really proud. We've both had a tough time being away from home and figuring out what we actually wanted, but we pushed through.''

Their year in Dunedin had given them time to reassess their future with Tatom-Cross deciding to study floristry.

''I thought I'd try something new. I didn't realise it's been a passion - using natural materials and arranging.

''It's exciting to be heading towards something new.''

Bollinger on the other hand had decided to take a break from studying.

''I didn't take a gap year after school and I look back now and I should have.''

She had a studio set up at home so would continue with her art and hoped to sell some of her work.

''I'm going to enjoy not studying for a wee bit. Do some work, travel.''

Whatever the pair ended up doing, they believe it will involve something creative.

''We're both really creative people. If we are able to make a career out of making things then that would be the best career in the world,'' Tatom-Cross said.

''I want to develop the skills we've learnt this year. We'll defiantly keep making,'' Bollinger said.

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